Police and state Department of Transportation workers trudged into the homeless encampment known as the “Jungle” south of downtown Tacoma on Tuesday to tell its remaining residents they have a short time to move along.
Several dozen people grimly packed up their tents and belongings shortly after 9 a.m. as a dump truck and excavator rolled into the camp under Interstate 705.
Transportation Department workers need the site cleared so they have space to inspect and maintain the overpasses that tower over the encampment land, spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker said.
The department owns the property and plans to improve the fences and barriers around it to prevent further encroachment, she said. It will take several weeks for workers to clear the site of litter, evict all residents and clean up the graffiti on most of the freeway support poles, she said.
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No confrontations were apparent before a city official escorted reporters out of the litter-strewn encampment. The official, spokeswoman Megan Snow, said later that police had not confronted any resident or evicted any campsite.
Snow said the city is conducting outreach to get the site’s remaining residents resettled so the area can be cleaned in a few weeks.
The Rev. Bruce Walmer, who has worked with homeless Tacomans for nine years, said the morning’s events went peaceably. Several of the homeless plan to move east to an encampment on Portland Avenue, he said.
J.R. Fennimore, who with his wife moved out of the Jungle encampment Tuesday, said he didn’t know where they would live next.
“I had to leave my tent behind,” he said.
Fennimore said he considered the treatment unfair.
“They want us to up and move and move,” he said. “I don’t understand it.”
The encampment has existed under the I-705 overpass on and off for more than a decade. Earlier this year, workers at the Brown & Haley chocolate company next door to the site reported an overwhelming amount of garbage had begun to appear regularly next to the campground.
At least part of the trash came from Jungle residents.
“It was just getting to be a pigsty, and we’d been yelling at them a long time to just clean up,” Walmer said.
On Tuesday, more than 20 children’s bikes lay in pieces along an embankment near the entrance to the encampment.
Elsewhere, food wrappers, syringe caps and a piece of a city-issued eviction notice were among the piles of detritus.
Standing in a muddy patch, Craig Frady, 41, said he lived in the Jungle during his seven-month addiction to heroin, which he had tried for the first time there.
“It was very cold, and I was just watching these guys sit there and use it,” Fady said of the drug. “I wanted to know what it was like.”
He said he had kicked the drug and hoped to find work as a welder, which he has done professionally, when he can buy a mask and gloves.
He said he did not know where he would spend the next few nights. He said he hopes eventually to join family in Spokane.
Some of the Jungle residents will be able to take shelter at the city’s oversubscribed homeless shelters.
The Tacoma Rescue Mission, not far from the Jungle site, was over its capacity of about 100 before Tuesday but agreed to take in 30 people temporarily, said Noah Baskett, its senior director of community engagement.
The agency already had been providing Jungle residents with food and showers, he said.
“The truth is we just need to expand what we can do to serve homeless folks well in our Tacoma community,” Baskett said. “Obviously, the needs don’t go away when the camps are removed.
“At the mission, our real hope is to provide a permanent and complete pathway out of homelessness.”